Socialist Worker

Ken Loach: How the struggle made me feel less like compromising

Ken Loach spoke to Sarah Ensor about his new documentary The Spirit of ’45—a rallying call for socialism that recalls how the welfare state was built

Issue No. 2344

The Spirit of ’45 blends archive footage from the 1930s onwards  and interviews with people who lived through the times. 

We see troops return home and celebrations amid the wreckage of bombed buildings.

“The basis of our welfare state is being written out of history,” director Ken Loach told Socialist Worker. 

“I wanted to interview the people who are now in their 80s and assemble the archive footage as a useful resource.”

In the footage people talk of how they would never go back to the poverty of the 1930s.

“After the war people felt they could do things collectively because the war was won collectively,” said Ken. 

“The state organised industry, the mines and transport. People felt they could unite to win the peace.” 

Footage of unemployed men in the 1930s echoes points made by the Marxist Frederick Engels in the 19th century. 

He said the working class was hunted like game and allowed no quiet enjoyment of life. 

There is harrowing film of dockers trying to get work. They were casual labourers with no employment rights until 1967. 

Ken said, “Decades ago people would have been out on the streets so the images of poverty are different. 

“In the areas of mass deprivation now, people may have a few electronic goods. But they are stuck at home. There’s still poverty, alienation and despair.” 

Housing

There are very moving descriptions of pre-war housing conditions and new council housing. The architects and planners took great pride in what they had done. 

“This goes to the heart of the ideological failure of the Labour Party,” said Ken. “Their slogan ‘Labour means business’ meant the market would provide the solutions—but it failed.

“Now no party has a plan for sustainable housing.”

The documentary contains footage of young miners from the Great Strike of 1984-85 discussing how the police aren’t neutral—they beat people up and arrest them for nothing.

Ken explained how the footage “wasn’t broadcast on the mass media, it was only allowed to emerge later”.

“Everyone understood it was a pivotal event,” he added. “Afterwards Margaret Thatcher was able to drive through privatisation of the mines. 

“If the miners had won, history would have been different. But the odds were stacked against them because the trade union leaders were bound to the Labour Party. 

“Labour’s Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley wanted the miners to lose—they didn’t want strong unions. 

“Afterwards I felt less like compromising. It was so blatant what was happening with the main media. 

“I saw police drive through the pickets holding up £5 and £10 notes to taunt the miners. 

“It made my principles very clear and I realised how the state would always act.”

The Spirit of ’45 also shows the birth of the NHS and how it changed lives forever. 

To see this now when the NHS is under attack is particularly bitter,” said Ken. This year the cuts are really going to bite and health services won’t survive. It will be divided up and run down. 

“There’ll be more private capital on the same pattern as the railways.

“The government is relying on the passive leadership of the trade unions  so we have to unite to fight back.”

For details of screenings of The Spirit of ’45 in your area go to dogwoof.com

Socialist Worker has two tickets for a screening of The Spirit of ’45 to give away on 31 March at the Mac Birmingham. 

Just answer the following question—which actor played David Carr who joins the International Brigades in Land and Freedom?

Email your answer to

competitions@socialistworker.co.uk by 22 March 2013.


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